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NASA's budget might delay space shuttle replacement

United States is headed for a more than four-year stretch where it will need to rely on other countries for transport to space station.

The Senate's first review of NASA's fiscal 2008 budget request Wednesday focused on the agency's fiscal 2007 funding, which NASA Administrator Michael Griffin warned would delay development of the space shuttle.

Griffin told the Senate Commerce Space Subcommittee that because the recently completed continuing resolution cut manned space spending by $677 million, the gap between the shuttle's retirement and the availability of the new space vehicle would be extended by four to eight months. The shuttle is scheduled to stop flying by Oct. 1, 2010, and the earliest likely operations of the replacement system now would be December 2014, Griffin said.

That would create a more than four-year period in which the United States could be forced to purchase the transport of cargo and crew to the International Space Station from foreign countries, such as Russia and China, he said.

"I find it unseemly that the United States would be buying space capability from other countries," Griffin said.

He also worried about the effect on the NASA workforce and on national support for the space program from such a prolonged gap in manned space flight. Those concerns were shared by Space Subcommittee Chairman Bill Nelson, D-Fla., a former astronaut.

Space Subcommittee ranking member Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, said she and Nelson wanted the smallest possible gap between the shuttle's retirement and the initial operational use of the planned Orion crew exploration vehicle and the Aries launch system.

Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D. raised another sensitive issue, asking if the arrest of astronaut Lisa Novak for assaulting a romantic rival has led Griffin to review screening and training.

Griffin said, "We obviously failed to recognize that she was a troubled individual," and he has asked a group of NASA experts and an outside collection of individuals in "high-stress" activities to review the Novak incident and make recommendations.

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